Do you keep a journal? It might be an actual diary in which you record daily events, or a notebook you keep in your bag to record things you see, or even a collection of scrap paper than you’ve scrawled ideas onto and then collated or stuck into a book.

Joyce Carol Oates once commented that memory is our domestic form of time travel. I like that idea. It occurs to me that if I were to pack for such a journey, it might be helpful to have a memory-map to guide me. A journal can be such a map.

I’ve found that keeping a journal allows me to be honest with myself about my life, to capture thoughts and experiences and provide clarity. These words and phrases – the various things that occur to me in odd places at random times – might otherwise be forgotten or lost sight of in the hurly burly of living.

Finding the snippets later on provides me with reference points to establish or confirm events, to compare my past thoughts and actions to those in my current situation. These are the strands that, as I get older, form the basis of the map back to my past.

Effectively, my journal is my personal external hard-drive in many volumes. As it’s also an invaluable tool for me as a writer. I sometimes spend time paging through one of my notebooks and usually find a key phrase or idea, something that can kickstart my writing – or at least make me smile.

One such was a note I made after seeing the film Lady in the Van. Miss Shepherd (the van lady) makes a comment that captured my imagination. It made me smile then and I’m glad I made a note of it so that I could smile over it again on my time travels: Onions can only take you so far, medically speaking.

Beautiful, yes? Not only that, it turns out that onions actually do have a bunch of medicinal properties, so Miss Shepherd did actually know her onions – even if they couldn’t cure her in the end 🙂

So, do you keep a journal and, if so, what format does yours take?

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